A teenage gunman killed at least 19 children and two adults after storming into a Texas elementary school on Tuesday, the latest bout of gun-fueled mass murder in the United States and the nation’s worst school shooting in nearly a decade.
The 18-year-old suspect, who was killed apparently by police, also had shot his own grandmother before fleeing from the scene, then crashing his getaway car and launching a bloody rampage at Robb Elementary School in the town of Uvalde, Texas, about 80 miles (130 km) west of San Antonio.
The motive was not immediately clear.
Law enforcement officers saw the gunman, clad in body armor, emerge from his crashed vehicle carrying a rifle and “engaged” the suspect, who nevertheless managed to charge into the school and open fire, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Sergeant Erick Estrada said on CNN.
Speaking from the White House hours later, a visibly shaken U.S. President Joe Biden urged Americans to stand up to the politically powerful U.S. gun lobby, which he blamed for blocking enactment of tougher “common-sense” firearms safety laws.
Biden ordered flags flown at half-staff daily until sunset on Saturday in observance of the tragedy.
Governor Greg Abbott said that the suspect, identified as Salvador Ramos, was apparently killed by police officers, and that two officers were struck by gunfire, though the governor said their injuries were not serious.
Authorities said the suspect acted alone.
After confusing early accounts of the death toll, the state attorney general’s office in an official statement put the tally of lives lost at 18 children and two adults, including the gunman. A Texas DPS spokesperson later told CNN that 19 school children and two adults were killed, not counting the shooter.
The school’s student body consists of children in the second, third and fourth grades, according to Pete Arredondo, chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department, who also addressed reporters. Pupils in those grades would likely have ranged in age from 7 to 10.
The carnage unfolded 10 days after 10 people were killed in Buffalo, New York, in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Authorities have charged an 18-year-old man who they said had traveled hundreds of miles to Buffalo and opened fire with an assault-style rifle at a grocery store.
Tuesday’s bloodshed in Texas began when the suspect shot his grandmother before going to the school, Texas Department of Public Safety officer Chris Olivarez said on Fox News, a development Abbott mentioned earlier in the day.
“I have no further information about the connection between those two shootings,” the governor said.
University Hospital in San Antonio said on Twitter that it had received two patients from the shooting in Uvalde, a 66-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl, both listed in critical condition.
Uvalde Memorial Hospital said 15 students from Robb Elementary were treated in its emergency room, with two transferred to San Antonio for further care, while a third patient transfer was pending. It was not immediately clear whether all of those students survived.
A 45-year-old victim grazed by a bullet was also hospitalized at Uvalde Memorial, the hospital said.
Hours after the shooting, police had cordoned off the school with yellow tape. Police cruisers and emergency vehicles were scattered around the perimeter of the school grounds. Uniformed personnel stood in small clusters, some in camouflage carrying semi-automatic weapons.
EPIDEMIC OF GUN VIOLENCE
The rampage was the latest in a series of mass school shootings that have fueled a fierce debate between advocates of tighter gun controls and those who oppose any legislation that could compromise the constitutional right of Americans to bear arms.
The shooting in Texas was one of the deadliest at a U.S. school since a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012. In 2018, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 students and educators.
Firearms became the leading cause of death for U.S. children and adolescents in 2020, surpassing motor vehicle accidents, according to a University of Michigan research letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine last month.
The day’s horrors were reflected on the Facebook page of Robb Elementary School.
Earlier this week, its posts showed the usual student activities – a trip to the zoo for second-graders and a save-the-date for a gifted-and-talented showcase. But on Tuesday, a note was posted at 11:43 a.m.: “Please know at this time Robb Elementary is under a Lockdown Status due to gunshots in the area. The students and staff are safe in the building.”
A second post was more explicit: “There is an active shooter at Robb Elementary. Law enforcement is on site.” Administrators asked parents to stay away. And finally, a note was posted advising parents that they could meet their children at the small city’s civic center.
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India raises defence budget to $72.6 bln amid tensions with China
India proposed on Wednesday 5.94 trillion rupees ($72.6 billion) in defence spending for the 2023-24 financial year, 13% up from the previous period’s initial estimates, aiming to add more fighter jets and roads along its tense border with China, Reuters reported.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman allocated 1.63 trillion rupees for defence capital outlays – an expenditure that would include new weapons, aircraft, warships and other military hardware, as she unveiled nearly $550 billion of total federal spending in the annual budget for 2023-24 starting in April.
She said 2.77 trillion rupees would be devoted to military salaries and benefits in 2023-24, 1.38 trillion on pensions for retired soldiers, and further amounts for miscellaneous items.
itharaman also revised the defence budget for the current financial year ending in March to 5.85 trillion rupees from earlier estimates of 5.25 trillion.
In the past few years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ramped up spending to modernise the military, while underlining his government’s commitment to boosting domestic production to supply forces deployed along two contentious borders, Reuters reported.
Laxman Behera, a defence expert at government-funded Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said the hike in the defence budget was “reasonable but not sufficient”, considering requirements for military modernisation.
“The government has tried to allocate reasonable funds for defence forces while balancing other priorities during the pre-election budget,” he said, noting India needed more funds in view of growing friction with China along disputed borders.
The total Indian defence budget, estimated at about 2% of GDP, is still lower than China’s 1.45 trillion yuan ($230 billion) in allocations for 2022, which New Delhi sees as posing a threat to neighbours including India and Japan, read the report.
“The overall increase in the armed forces’ budget is as anticipated, but likely lower than what they asked for to beef up operational capabilities,” said Amit Cowshish, former financial adviser for acquisitions at the Defence Ministry.
India plans to spend near 242 billion rupees ($3 billion) for naval fleet construction and 571.4 billion rupees ($7 billion) for air force procurements including more aircraft, the latest budget document showed.
The South Asian giant employs 1.38 million people in its armed forces, with large numbers deployed along borders with nuclear-armed rivals China and Pakistan.
Although the defence budget allocations fell short of military expectations, they are likely to grow as the economy recovers from two years of pandemic curbs, according to Behera.
India and China share a 3,500-kilometre (2,100-mile) frontier that has been disputed since the 1950s. The two sides went to war over it in 1962.
At least 24 soldiers were killed when the armies of the Asian giants clashed in Ladakh, in the western Himalayas, in 2020 but tensions eased after military and diplomatic talks, Reuters reported.
A fresh clash erupted in the eastern Himalayas in December last year but no deaths were reported.
Families seek loved ones after Pakistan mosque blast kills 100, all but 3 police
Distraught relatives thronged hospitals in Pakistan’s Peshawar on Tuesday to look for their kin a day after a suicide bombing ripped through a crowded mosque in a heavily fortified area of the city, killing 100 people, all but three of them police, Reuters reported.
The attack, in the Police Lines district, was the deadliest in a decade to hit this restive, northwestern city near the Afghan border and comes amid a surge in violence against the police.
“My son, my child,” cried an elderly woman walking alongside an ambulance carrying coffins, as rescue workers stretchered wounded people to a hospital emergency unit.
At least 170 people were wounded in the blast, which demolished the upper storey of the mosque as hundreds of worshippers performed noon prayers, read the report.
Riaz Mahsud, a senior local government official, said the casualty toll was likely to rise as workers searched through the debris.
“So far, 100 bodies have been brought to Lady Reading Hospital,” a spokesman for the largest medical facility in the city, Mohammad Asim, said in a statement.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told parliament that 97 of the 100 were police officials.
Authorities say they do not know how the bomber managed to breach the military and police checkpoints leading into the Police Lines district, a colonial-era, self-contained encampment in the city centre that is home to middle- and lower-ranking police personnel and their families, Reuters reported.
Given the security concerns in Peshawar, the mosque was built to allow police to pray without leaving the area. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said the bomber was in the first row in the prayer hall when he struck.
The attack is the deadliest in Peshawar since twin suicide bombings at All Saints Church killed scores of worshippers in September 2013, in what is the deadliest attack on Pakistan’s Christian minority.
Peshawar sits on the edge of the Pashtun tribal lands, a region mired in violence for the past two decades. The most active militant group in the area is the Pakistani Taliban, also called Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella group for Sunni and sectarian Islamist factions opposed to the government in Islamabad.
No group has officially owned the attack, but Sanaullah said a breakaway faction of the TTP called Khurasani had claimed responsibility.
The TTP denied responsibility, though it has stepped up attacks since withdrawing from a peace deal with the government last year, Reuters reported.
The policy to release militants under a amnesty as part of the deal has resulted in the bombing, Sanaullah said, adding that some of the militants who were set free also included some on death row.
The bombing took place a day before an IMF mission arrived in Islamabad for talks on a stalled $7 billion bailout.
US general says country will be at war with China in 2025
A U.S. general said in a memo on Friday that he believes the country will be at war with China by 2025, according to several news outlets that obtained a copy of the communication, The Hill reported.
“I hope I am wrong,” Gen. Mike Minihan, a four-star Air Force general who leads the Air Mobility Command (AMC), said in the memo to troops under his command, which was first reported by NBC News.
However, he added: “My gut tells me we will fight in 2025. [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping] secured his third term and set his war council in October 2022. Taiwan’s presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a reason. United States’ presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a distracted America. Xi’s team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025.”
Minihan told AMC personnel to accept some increased risk in training as they prepare for the “China fight” and sometime in February to “fire a clip into a 7-meter target with the full understanding that unrepentant lethality matters most. Aim for the head.”
He also urged personnel in his command to get their personal affairs in order to “ensure they are legally ready and prepared” in March, The Hill reported.
However, a Defense Department spokesperson told NBC that Minihan’s comments “are not representative of the department’s view on China.”
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